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Repentance and Asking for Forgiveness- Any Difference?

The process of dhikr (remembrance of Allah) must involve the recognition and confession of our faults, mistakes, and aberrations and turning to Allah, asking for forgiveness with the expectation of His mercy.

Seeking forgiveness is asking Allah for His forgiveness for the sins you have committed, while repentance is turning away from our faults and returning to Allah, to His path. When Allah desires good for a believer, He gives him awareness of his faults.

Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) when questioned about the nature of virtue and sin, replied:

Virtue is to have good morals, sin is what pricks your heart and when you dislike that people come to know about it. (Muslim, 2553)

Likewise, whenever we are faced with a dilemma or uncertainty in our daily life we have been exhorted by the Prophet to observe the following guidelines:

Seek a verdict from your heart. Virtue is that which your soul and heart feel satisfied with. Sin is that which troubles the soul and about which the heart is uneasy and confused, even though people may give their legal opinions in its favor. (Muslim, 27)

But what exactly does the process of seeking forgiveness and repentance entail?

Ali ibn Abi Talib once saw a Bedouin repeating words of repentance in a great hurry.

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“This is fake repentance,” remarked Ali ibn Abi Talib.

The Bedouin asked, “What is true repentance?”

Ali ibn Abi Talib explained that there are six elements in an act of true repentance:

1- You should regret what has happened.

2- Discharge the duty which you have neglected.

3- Restore the right that you have misappropriated.

4- Apologize to the one whom you have caused injury.

5- Resolve not to repeat the act.

6- You should dedicate yourself entirely to the service of Allah, so that you may experience the rigors of obedience, as you may have relished the pleasure of transgression.

When to Seek Forgiveness?

We may now ask the question: when is the best time during the course of the day to seek forgiveness? There is of course no special time to seek the forgiveness of Allah.

But perhaps one of the best occasions is the early hours of each day, which the Quran declares is the time utilized by true believers to draw closer to their Lord:

…they forsake their beds to cry unto their Lord in fear and hope. (32:16)

The significance of this early part of each day has also been explained by the Prophet as follows:

Our Lord descends every night to the nearest Heaven when only the last third of the night remains, and says: “Is anyone praying that I may answer him? Is anyone seeking forgiveness that I may forgive him? Is anyone asking that I may give to him?” And this continues until dawn. (Al-Bukhari, 7494)

You should therefore start each day by taking an account of yourself: seek forgiveness for the wrongs you have done, and make the intention not to repeat these mistakes. In this way you shall become free from these sins.

Every day you may commit a sin, but if every day you come sincerely to Allah, then every day He will forgive you. Such is His love and blessings for us. Allah reminds us:

When My servants ask you concerning Me, I am indeed close [to them]. I listen to the prayer of every supplicant when he calls on Me. Let them also respond to My call and believe in Me so that they may walk in the right way. (2:186)

While seeking the forgiveness of Allah, you must place your full trust and confidence in Allah for He always listens and answers the prayers of His servants. In one Divine hadith (hadith qudsi), Allah reassures us:

Son of Adam, so long as you keep calling upon Me and hoping for good from Me, I shall forgive you whatever you have done, and I do not mind. O Son of Adam, were your sins to rise as high as the sky, and were you to ask Me for forgiveness, I would forgive you. Son of Adam, were you to come to Me with sins as large as would fill the earth, and meet Me having ascribed no partner to Me, I would bring you forgiveness as great as your sins. (At-Tirmidhi, 3540)

This article is excerpted from the author’s book, “In the Early Hours”.